Shane Van Gisbergen held off a hard-charging Maxi Buhk for victory in Sunday’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup season-opener at Monza, giving Garage 59 its maiden win and McLaren its first of the season.
The V8 Supercars ace crossed the line just 0.341 seconds ahead of the No. 84 HTP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Buhk, after intense pressure from the German driver in the 30 minutes, who closed a 10-plus second gap through traffic.
Van Gisbergen shared top honors with Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar, who scored his first Blancpain GT Series victory.
Starting 16th on the grid, Bell maneuvered his McLaren up to the fifth in no time and went on to chase down the No. 8 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek and No. 23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 of Lucas Ordonez.
Right before the first round of pitstops, Bell managed to overtake both the Bentley and Nissan to hand over the car to Ledogar in third.
Meanwhile at the head of the field, Daniel Keilwitz’s No. 66 Black Pearl by Rinaldi Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 (Pro Am) took over the lead from the pole-sitting No. 84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes of Dominik Baumann, the Ferrari making optimal use of its superior top speed on the long straights.
A quick pitstop by the Garage 59 crew and issues for the No. 84 HTP Mercedes and No. 23 RJN Nissan, meant the Ledogar’s McLaren held the lead once everybody made its first stop.
The Frenchman was able to keep the gap to Jazeman Jafaar in the Mercedes at around 10 seconds during the middle stint, while both the No. 8 Bentley and No. 23 Nissan lost ground.
The No. 8 Bentley of Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Wolfgang Reip drove a relatively quiet race in third once it passed the No. 23 RJN Nissan at the end of the first hour and claimed the final podium spot half a minute behind the winners.
Ordonez, Mitsunori Takaboshi and Alex Buncombe finished a further 18 seconds back in fourth with the No. 23 RJN Nissan, in front of the No. 11 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Michael Broniszewski, Alessandro Bonacini and Andrea Rizzoli that won the Pro Am Cup.
Following Keilwitz’s blistering opening stint, the No. 66 Black Pearl Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 dropped back to 11th overall, as Steve Parrow and Alexander Mattschull completed the three-hour race in the Pro Am Cup entered car third in class.
The No. 1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS was battling for position in the second half of the top-10, when Dries Vanthoor got a drive through following contact with the No. 24 Team Parker Racing Bentley.
Laurens Vanthoor still managed to get the car back up to ninth in the final hour of the race, while his brother will likely receive a five-place grid penalty at Brands Hatch as a result of the incident.
The AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Maurice Ricci, Gilles Vannelet and Jean-Luc Beaubelique won the Am Cup crossing the line in 27th overall.